DEFINITION of 'Potash'

Potash, from the Dutch potaschen, meaning "pot ashes," is the common name for any of several compounds containing potassium, such as potassium carbonate (K2CO3), potassium oxide (K2O) and potassium chloride (KCl). These compounds are used primarily in the manufacture of fertilizer.


Potash refers to any mined or manufactured salt that contains potassium in water-soluble form. Potash was originally made by saturating wood ashes in water, then heating the mix in an iron pot until the liquid evaporated, leaving a white residue called "pot ash". Potash is used in fertilizers, soap, and glass and ceramics manufacturing.

Similar to potash, "pearl ash" is created by burning cream of tartar.

Potash Production

Potassium is the seventh most abundant element in our planet's crust, but it isn't found in its elemental form in nature, since it reacts with water. Rather, potassium is found in compounds. Most potash reserves are found in Canada. The Eastern European region is the number one producer of potash in the world. Together, the countries of Belarus, Canada, China, Germany, Israel, Jordan and Russia produce 90% of the world's potash. In the United States, potash is produced in New Mexico, Michigan, and Utah.

Potash can be produced a few different ways, including evaporation methods and dissolution mining. The evaporation method requires hot water to be added to the potash, which dissolves it and causes it to rise to the surface, where excess water is evaporated to create a concentrated substance. In dissolution mining, the mined potash is ground into a powder.

Potash is a useful fertilizer nutrient and offers a variety of farming benefits, including the improvement of taste, texture, color, yield and water retention in crops. Common crops that rely on potash include corn, rice, wheat and cotton, among many others.

Where is Potash Found?

Potash reserves are common in areas that used to be underwater. As the earth developed and the ocean water evaporated, the salts, a mixture of potassium chloride (KCl) and sodium chloride (NaCl) were left behind, forming potash. Over time, the earth's changing surface allowed most of these mines to be buried deep in the earth's crust, and today, most potash mines are quite deep.

History of Potash

Potash has been used since about the year 500 A.D., to help make materials such as glass and soap. The American potash industry began in the 18th and 19th centuries, when settlers cleared forests in order to plant crops. They needed to get rid of the extra wood, and the easiest way to do that was to burn any wood that wasn't already set aside for other purposes, such as fuel or building things. The wood ashes were sold either to create soap or to boil down into potash. That system, together with similar systems in other countries and regions in the world (including Canada and Eastern Europe), set the foundation for the global potash economy that exists today.